Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obama’s Afghanistan speech at West Point

Normally when Obama gives a speech I do not watch, I prefer to read them instead [full transcript here]. This is because I cannot stand the teleprompter head movements and reading his speeches are often far more revealing. That being said, I did both this time just to be sure.

The first thing I noticed was that Obama seems to be making a trend with using prodigious venues when he speaks about national security matters. Remember last time when he spoke about ending enhanced interrogations; he did so in from of the Constitution at the National Archives with a booming echo too. This time the venue is West Point with row after row of young cadets trained on his every word. Question: Are these venues chosen to give gravitas to because there is fear that his words lack weight? I seem to remember several presidents speaking about grave matters of national security from the Oval office, no need for fancy venues.

The venue issue aside, Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan could actually be workable, but plan seems almost deliberately hobbled by the stated 18 month exit window. I simply cannot understand the need for publicly announcing that we will be ready to pack our bags and leave after 18 months. If the idea is to pressure the Afghani government into action, why not simply relay that message in private.  If the idea is to pressure the Afghan people to join forces, the exit date is surely is a let down.

The other thing that I did not understand was given all the time Obama took dithering on this issue, how come there is no explanation as to why he did not give McChrystal the 40,000 troops he asked for? Why just 30,000 and not the 40,000? What was the reason for the reduction?

There were a few lines that caught my attention when reading through the speech.

Our Allies' Support:
Because this is an international effort, I've asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we're confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead.
Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. And now we must come together to end this war successfully. For what's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility; what's at stake is the security of our allies and the common security of the world.
Now, taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.
Sorry but I am not inspired that Obama will get all this help from our allies. Over the last year I have yet to see any of the world's nations flock to Obama’s requests on anything. I have even less hope that our allies will increase their support.

Again here is that exit date getting in the way again. If this was is so important to our security, our allies' security and the credibility of NATO, why then must we put an expiration date on the task at hand?

Obama’s Straw Man For The Exit Date:
Finally, there are those who oppose identifying a timeframe for our transition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort, one that would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost and what we need to achieve to secure our interests.
Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.
This is a typical Obama straw man argument. Only Al Queada and the Taliban need know our commitment is open ended, the Afghani government can be told privately when we plan to go.  Obama’s mention of reasonable cost, gives our enemies another clue to defeating us, simply make the fight expensive and we will bolt!

Talk About Gall:
This vast and diverse citizenry will not always agree on every issue, nor should we. But I also know that we as a country cannot sustain our leadership nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time if we allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in recent times poisoned our national discourse.
It's easy to forget that, when this war began, we were united, bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe...
Hold up, wasn’t it Obama and his party who did everything in their power to undermine the previous administration’s efforts to gain victory in Iraq? It seems pretty galling now that he has the responsibility of the two wars in his hands, that he would dare lecture anyone about rancor, cynicism and partisanship!


Because I have great faith in our armed forces, I think this plan may work despite the unnecessary public announcement of our departure date.  However, the cynic in me sees failure and the exit date being used as our excuse to pack it in consequences be damn. The timing is perfect to bring the troops home and patch thing up with his base all in time for reelection.  I am even willing to bet that even at that late date, Obama will still try to blame Bush for the loss.


T-Steel said...

I'm not overly concerned with timetables given simply because our Armed Forces will make in impossibly difficult for the Taliban to "hole up" for 18 months. General McChrystal seems to be fine with President Obama's plan:

Bz said...

I am concerned, as you are, w/ timetables given.... uhhh... helllllo... any successful encounter/war, one does not divulge info- that's a BASIC tenant. And Gen. McC's obviously has no choice in the matter with accepting what he can get. It's a grave choice of action. SHAME on 'Obuma'.
And CB, your analysis is well supported and spot on... someone needs to find you for political "comment-ation"!

MissTammy said...

I was amazed at how UN-trained the cadets seemed to be on him, actually. I saw most of them looking in the other direction, fidgeting, texting, and some were fighting sleep. And who can blame them when their CinC is trashing everything they stand for right in front of them, while calling for retreat?

Clifton B said...


Thanks for the tip. But did you notice that McChrystal doesn't say anything about the expiration date? He agrees with everything else but doesn't even mention that aspect.

I have to admit I am pinning my hopes on our troops performance and not so much on the time frame of the strategy.

Clifton B said...


That time table thing really sticks in my craw the more I think about it. It leaves the door open for political shenanigans as well.

Yeah, some one should start paying me for political analysis, heck they pay Chris Matthews!

Clifton B said...


Like I said, these young people learned long ago how to view the world in stark terms. They know BS when they see it, they have to.

nightfly said...

I think the timetable thing is almost like a Trojan horse. If the strategy fails because of the timetable, he will be able to say that more troops didn't work after all, and it was all the Right's fault for favoring them, and the military's fault for not being able to accomplish the objective in time.

He will conveniently ignore that the "objective" in this case is simply a circle on the calendar and requires no effort whatsoever to "achieve." As CS Lewis observed, the future comes to us sixty minutes per hour, no matter who we are, no matter what we do.

In other words, it's all political cover. Obama is incapable of seeing this as a real fight, but rather as an issue whose only importance is whether it will keep him from being re-elected.

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